This delightful and instructive history of invention shows why National Public Radio dubbed Tenner “the philosopher of everyday technology.” Looking at how our inventions have impacted our world in ways we never intended or imagined, he shows that the things we create have a tendency to bounce back and change us.
The reclining chair, originally designed for brief, healthful relaxation, has become the very symbol of obesity. The helmet, invented for military purposes, has made possible new sports like mountain biking and rollerblading. The typewriter, created to make business run more smoothly, has resulted in wide-spread vision problems, which in turn have made people more reliant on another invention—eyeglasses. As he sheds light on the many ways inventions surprise and renew us, Tenner considers where technology will take us in the future, and what we can expect from the devices that we no longer seem able to live without.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of eBook: Our Own Devices|
|Release Date: 08-26-2009|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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|Parent title||Our Own Devices|
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Our Own Devices
Technology, Technique, and the Body
IN A GARY LARSON cartoon, a number of dogs are tinkering with building hardware at laboratory workbenches. The caption explains that they are striving to improve canine life by mastering the Doorknob Principle. What makes this funny is partly the idea of pooch scientists standing on their hind legs, manipulating screwdrivers and even microscopes. It recalls the long-discarded notion that we humans are the only tool-using animals. It points indirectly to the unique versatility of the human hand, with its range of grips, and the relative specialization of other creatures' paws and claws.
There is something even stranger than Larson's image, though. Other animals have a surprising ability to manipulate human technology. Not all understand what people do with things, but they develop ways to work with human-made objects, and they transmit this knowledge socially. At the dawn of industrialization, the rats of early-nineteenth-century London, with no direct auditory or visual cues, had long known that water flowed through the lead pipes servicing houses. When sufficiently thirsty, they gnawed right through them. Unfortunately, by the 1830s the pipes sometimes contained gas; the holes left by the disappointed rodents added to the risk of explosions. (Rats also loved the wax covering early matches, brought them back to their dens, and ignited the phosphorus with their teeth, causing still more fires.)
Bears in Yosemite National Park have learned to twist open screw-top jars of peanut butter, to break into food lockers with a combination of paw and snout, and to raid Dumpsters through supposedly protective slots. Bears